Friday, 21 September 2012

Lessons from a Fuel Queue

Credit: Google Images

I stared out idly from the creaky taxi-cab, watching the stretch of tired cars strewn carelessly within miles of any fuel station. I gave a resigned sigh at this recurrent image in our national kaleidoscope, and reached for my headphones to escape into the therapy of the Cranberries. The driver’s angry grumbles halted me.

He was demonstrating wildly as we sauntered three blocks past the junction I had told him I would stop at. “Why you tell me say na for ICPC u go stop! I no dey go again! Listen oga, after this junction, i swear I go park here and u must pay me my moni!”. Ordinarily, I would flare, but his reddened eyes testified to the agonizing hours he had spent waiting for the smug fuel sellers to rouse themselves for pre-dawn sales. Eventually, when it got to his turn, he would only be able to afford half-tank, and now, the half tank is dwindling, and the day’s bottom-line has not been nearly met. Plus, it’s a Friday!

I calmed him, and agreed to give an extra 200 bucks for the excess journey. His expression changed instantly “haba oga no be say i wicked o, na this country dey cause am o...” and he went into an animated comparative ramble on democracy and military rule.  I tuned off.  When I alighted, I watched him struggle with more guilt-ridden half apologies. I waved them off with a smile, it wasn’t his fault.

That was when it struck me that the Fuel crisis creates a perfect metaphor for our country, and its citizens. It demarcates us all into the typical classes we struggle in, everyday.  Here goes:

1.    The Black Market Sellers:
In our everyday life, these represent the Contract chasers; those half-schooled charlatans that benefit from loopholes in the system. They are products of illegality and expertly navigate past every statutory/regulatory structure to win deals. Of course, lacking the abilities to do anything with the technical contracts, they outsource them via auction-type arrangements. Once they espy another poor consultant frustrated by the dearth of due process, they swoop on him, wielding their siphons, then rush off to another victim, gloating at the huge payoff, while the consultant is tortured to merely meet the project deliverables, all hopes of possible profit having died after the 70% compulsory fee demanded by the jobbers.

2.    The Fuel Attendants:
These represent the junior officers in public service. They mill around the offices idly, and their workday fritters to a regular uneventful end. Visitors walk past them every day without the least recognition of their presence. They could be naked, or dressed in rags, nobody notices. They are that insignificant. But in times of crisis, when the gates are closed on all callers and the big oga doesn’t want to see anybody that is not on appointment; they suddenly become relevant. You then find their hitherto humble demeanours give way to grandiose scowls. They take forever to produce the visitors’ form; shuffle into the building and emerge hours later to inform you that oga cannot see you now. Desperate, you beg and supplicate; you remember to line their palms with currency notes which they take without thanks, casting a quick eye to measure the quantum. Beautiful girls happily avail them their phone numbers, and smartly dressed gents obsequiously croon “mummy” “big daddy”. And they are ruthless. You are briskly marched out by the security if you try to claim right.  They know that when the system reverses itself, they would be forced back into the ignominy of anonymity. But, in the meantime, they rule.

3.    The Motorists who don’t queue but bribe their way in:
These are the VIPs. No, they are not the politicians. They are the private-sector rich. They don’t have time to queue for due process; time is money. In fact, they appear to enjoy a crisis, because it is only in such deteriorated situations that the fine line that distinguishes them from the proletariats is made evident. Willingly, they pay more for less, and emerge, looking busy and snorting at these other fools who don’t understand the value of time. Their wealth isolates them from the ugliness of the country, and they lead merry, cheery lives in the midst of the rot. A unique breed of ostriches, they bury their heads in gold. They are the biggest suckers, because they have the means to drive change, but do not see it.

4.    The Motorists who queue and grumble:
This is the VON. (Very Ordinary Nigerian). Pummelled on all sides by bad policy; he suffers all the consequent impact, and bears the highest stress levels. They shove and snap at themselves, irritated by the unsavoury mirror images they represent for each other. They stare wistfully at the VIPs and dream of rising to a level where they can pay their way past ‘minor inconveniences.’ They despise other members of their large community and yell: “if body dey pain you; why u no go pay 500 Naira to avoid queue!” They foster a sense of abject powerlessness, and offer their willing backs to the buffets of the big system..

5.    The Pipeline Vandals/Hoarders of Fuel:
Perennially faceless. You hear of them and their actions generate a harsh domino effect on the rest of society, but they are never caught. They run the system...they are the government.